A fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
In ancient times a giant was once travelling on a great highway,
when suddenly an unknown man sprang up before him, and said,
"Halt, not one step farther."
"What?" cried the giant, "a creature
whom I can crush between my fingers, wants to block my way? Who
are you that you dare to speak so boldly?"
"I am death," answered
the other. "No one resists me, and you also must obey my commands."
But the giant refused, and began to struggle with death. It was
a long, violent battle, in which at last the giant got
the upper hand, and struck death down with his fist, so that he
collapsed by a stone. The giant went his way, and death lay there
conquered, and so weak that he could not get up again. "What will
be done now?" said he, "If I stay lying here in a corner, no one
will die in the world, and it will get so full of people that they
won't have room to stand beside each other."
In the meantime a
young man came along the road, who was strong and healthy,
singing a song, and glancing around on every side. When he saw
the half-fainting one, he went compassionately to him, raised him
up, poured a strengthening draught out of his flask for him, and
waited till he regained some strength. "Do you know, said the
stranger, whilst he was getting up, "who I am, and who it is you have helped on his legs again?"
"No," answered the youth, "I do
not know you."
"I am death," said he, "I spare no one, and can make
no exception with you - but that you may see that I am grateful,
I promise you that I shall not fall on you unexpectedly, but will
send my messengers to you before I come and take you away."
said the youth, "it is something gained that I shall know when
you come, and at any rate be safe from you for so long."
went on his way, and was light-hearted, and enjoyed himself,
without thought. But youth and health did not last long. Soon
came sicknesses and sorrows, which tormented him by day, and took
away his rest by night. "Die I shall not," said he to himself, "for
death will send his messengers before that, but I do wish these
wretched days of sickness were over." As soon as he felt
himself well again he began once more to live merrily. Then one
day someone tapped him on the shoulder. He looked round, and
death stood behind him, and said, "Follow me, the hour of your
departure from this world has come."
"What?" replied the man, "will
you break your word? Did you not promise me that you would send
your messengers to me before coming yourself? I have seen none."
"Silence," answered death. "Have I not sent one messenger to you
after another? Did not fever come and smite you, and shake you,
and cast you down? Has not dizziness bewildered your head? Has
not gout twitched you in all your limbs? Did not your ears sing?
Did not toothache bite into your cheeks? Was it not dark before
your eyes? And besides all that, has not my own brother, sleep, reminded you every night of me? Did you not lie by night as if
you were already dead?"
The man could make no answer, he yielded
to his fate, and went away with death.